Tips for Reducing Confrontation


Our collective ability to embrace new social norms is the #1 factor in making this year’s on-campus experience successful. All community members have been asked to uphold the Smitty Safety & Civility Pledge, which outlines our mutual commitment to prepare for success, protect everyone’s health, and be a good neighbor, ally and friend. 

Acting on these principles will inevitably lead to challenging situations based on differing beliefs, values, and interpretations. This guide is intended to help you manage difficult situations as they ariseThis is not an all-encompassing list, nor are you expected to deal with these situations alone. Utilize the campus resources as recommended. 

Faculty and staff are often the first point of contact for many student issues. Departments are encouraged to develop standards on ways to handle these situations. Use this guide as a springboard to begin communication about difficult student situations. If there is no threat, often the best approach is to deal with these instances in a supportive and structured manner. 

You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with the PSC Community Guide to determine what constitutes a violation of behavioral standards.

General Guidelines
  • Don’t personalize the situation: take a breath and look at the situation as objectively as possible.
  • Identify the specific behavior of concern.
  • Avoid creating an adversarial relationship where there is no room for movement.
  • Recognize that many individuals are dealing with extreme stress due to the personal impacts of COVID-19, economic loss, and social injustice. Expressions of anger or belligerence may be a manifestation of underlying stress.
  • Look for the educational opportunity. An educational conversation from a college official can have a lasting impact on a student. Look for the opportunity to dialogue about the situation.
  • Maintain professional communication.
  • Address inappropriate, disruptive, or concerning behavior from the beginning. If you have a concern, do not wait to see if it happens again.
  • Maintain records of interactions with difficult students. 
Dealing with General Disrespect
  • If the student is belligerent or blatantly threatening, call Campus Safety at 518-327-6300. Follow this with a call to 911 if the situation is an emergency.
  • If there is no blatant threat, calmly remind yourself first that not all individuals will perceive crass or vulgar language to be inappropriate.
  • Take a breath (literally). Don’t escalate with the comments or take them personally. This is difficult, but the comments are meant to provoke. Handling them calmly may defuse the situation and demonstrate that this is not an effective means to get what is desired.
  • This is a teachable moment; take advantage of it. Most individuals will calm down enough to have a conversation if you start with statements meant to de-escalate their frustration.
    • Try a non-threatening, non-escalating “I” statement (see examples below). Repeat this calmly if needed.
    • An alternative would be: “I find your statements/email, etc., to be vulgar/inappropriate/disrespectful and others may, too. An alternative way to effectively communicate your point would be ….”.

Use “I” statements to focus the communication on your own feelings or beliefs, rather than thoughts and characteristics that you attribute to the other person. For example:

  • I am happy to talk with you about this matter; however (see “a” and “b,” below).
  • I know this situation can be frustrating; however (see “a” and “b,” below).
  • I want to work with you. We need to take a step back for a minute so we can look at this situation together.

Repeat the statement calmly two times. The third time, add, “I am going to end this conversation. I do not….. (see “a” and “b,” below).”

a.  “I do not/will not speak with another adult who is yelling (cursing, etc); and/or

b.  as an educator, I do not/will not speak to someone who uses vulgar/crass/inappropriate/disrespectful language.”

Refusal to Mask Up or Social Distance

All individuals on campus are required to wear masks or appropriate facial coverings if social distancing with a minimum distance of six feet is not feasible, in college buildings walking between offices, and at all times in classrooms and during group gatherings.

  • If you observe someone who is not wearing a required face covering/mask or practice social distancing, calmly remind the person that masks and social distancing are required. Ask the person if he/she/they have a face mask, and whether they would like to use a spare one if they forgot theirs.
  • If a person does not want to wear a face covering/mask, he/she/they should be asked to leave the location where they are. If in class, the faculty member should also inform the student that failure to wear a face covering/mask in class will result in consequences (e.g., unexcused absence or impact on participation grade).
  • If the person refuses to leave the class or location because they are not willing to wear a face covering/mask, tell the person that you will call Campus Safety to have the person escorted from class or space.
    • If the person persists in refusing to leave, call Campus Safety.
    • Any incidents in which a faculty/staff member contacts Campus Safety will initiate the judicial process as described in the college Community Guide.
Crisis Level Issues

If there is high risk and the danger to you or someone else is imminent, call Campus Safety and then call 911. Please see the Crisis Response Protocol for further details.